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Full text of "Recent Tennessee political history : interview with Gerald Capers, February 20, 1978 / by Charles W. Crawford, transcriber - J. Douglas Sims"

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FEBRUARY 20, 1978 








I hereby release all right, title, or interest in 
and to all of my tape-recorded memoirs to the Mississ- 
ippi Valley Archives of the John Uillard Bristcr Li- 
brary of Memphis State University and declare that thoy 
may be used without any restriction whatsoever and may 
be copyrighted and published by the said Archives, v?hich 
also may assign eaid copyright and publication rights 
to serious research scholars. 

PLACE JiW aJL<a^ i ^ ; jjuXzjj^ fUuJJ,. 
DATE ^ 3jLU±tt 

^LJ^LusuiJ^. h \j&$ML&z 



(For the Mississippi Valley Archives 
of the John Uillard Bricter Library 
of Memphis State University) 



DR. CAPERS: His two favorite students were Abe Fortas, my dear 

friend, and me. Both of us were agnostics. You 
had to write papers in Bible class. You had to take Bible as a 
freshman and Bible as a senior. Well, I wrote on the immortality 
of the soul and Abe wrote about Joseph and the coat of many 
colors. But, most of the professors I knew are dead. He was one 
of the few left around — Peyton Rhodes. And I understand Johnson 
is in a nursing home, somebody told me. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, I never met him. 
DR. CAPERS: Well John Henry Davis, you knew him. He died this 

year. Well I tell you. I had another history 
professor named Marlar Raymond Cooper. He's been dead a long 
time. He taught American History. But John taught English 
History. And you know, he was the dullest guy in class but 
outside of the class, he was the most stimulating guy. But I tell 
you what. I took a course in History of the British Empire from 
him. And you know what he did? He just read his notes that he 
had on a course at the University of Chicago. He was a Rhodes 
Scholar. A bunch of them were Rhodes Scholars. Cooper was, 
Kelsoe was . . . 

DR. CRAWFORD: Davis was, I believe. 

DR. CAPERS: ...Davis was. Strickler. Strickler was my Greek 

professor. But I haven't seen Abe since he 
resigned from the Supreme Court. And I tell you what the answer 
to that is. I used to stop and see him in Washington, because we 
both taught at Yale and we both went to Southwestern. His wife's 
a lawyer, daughter of an economics professor. Carol Eugenia 
Aggerly is her maiden name. Rutgers or someplace They must make 
between them about two hundred thousand bucks a year, see. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I think he took a big loss to go on the U.S. 

Supreme Court. 
DR. CAPERS: Now what happened there, he made this deal with 

this guy, which turned out to be a mistake. But he 
was going to act as counsel for this fellow and if Abe died, he 
was going to have to pay his wife for a number of years. And as 
soon as Abe found out that this guy was a... well not exactly 
crooked but, but a little shady, he got out of that deal. But the 
Chief Justice made him get off the court because of it. See, his 
wife must be above reproach. I wrote to him shortly thereafter 
and said, "you can't win them all." I had him down about thirty 
years ago to lecture at Tulane. And he wrote me back and said 
that he was going to come down, but I haven't seen him. I tried 
to call his office here several months ago and it was closed, so I 
expect he's retired. They wouldn't let him back in his old firm. 
But that's unfortunate because he's got the best mind of anybody 
I've ever seen. 
DR. CRAWFORD: You know, several people wrote that when he was 

appointed to the Supreme Court. And apparently 
Lyndon Johnson thought so because he really relied on him. 
DR. CAPERS: Well it was Lyndon Johnson that give the kiss of 

death to him. He was a close friend of Johnson's, 
but the Republicans wouldn't let Fortas be approved. Well I 
suppose he's, well, no. The Senate refused to confirm a couple of 
judges since then. He was from South Side and I was from Central. 
I was the valedictorian at Southwestern. I think he was next. 
But that's just because I worked harder. 
DR. CRAWFORD: What years were you at Southwestern? 
DR. CAPERS: Twenty-six to thirty. [1926-1930] And I came here 

in 1919. Now incidentally, I got to send you 
this. I wrote, in Col. Bob Allen's Our Fair City , I wrote a thing 
on Memphis. I called it the "Satrapy of a Benevolent Despot." 
And, well, Crump didn't like it. But somebody said to me that it 
was too strong for his friends and too weak for his enemies. But 
what Crump did, see, he came here from Holly Springs and got into 
a harness industry. And then got into politics. And he was a 
progressive. He was a reformer mayor. And you probably knew all 
that . 

DR. CRAWFORD: That was when he was elected in 1910? 

DR. CRAWFORD: He was a progressive then? 
DR. CAPERS: All right. What he did, Tennessee passed a 

prohibition law, but I think it was a local option. 
And he opposed that, because the people of Memphis didn't want it, 
see. Of course, they packed the ballot boxes all the time just 

regularly. And then he got impeached, because he refused to 
enforce this prohibition law. It wasn't local option, he just 
didn't enforce it, see. Well that was about 1917, I believe. And 
then he became County Commissioner. And of course he became a 
millionaire from that real estate investment business. But he 
stayed out of politics from 1917 to... as I told you on the phone. 
Mayoral race in 1923 or 'twenty-four. And the Klu-Klux-Klan was 
really strong here. And they ran this ticket. 
DR. CRAWFORD: That would have been about the mid to early 

DR. CAPERS: That's right. And Rowlett Paine was the candidate 

that opposed him. I think, in that period, Crump 
was County Commissioner. But what he did, he came out for Paine. 
Actually, I'm sure the Klan won that election. But the only guy 
they let in was Cliff Davis. And he openly joined the Crump 
forces. But then, you know, later on, Davis was so popular and he 
did a good job as judge. Well, he was City Judge and then he was 
Fire and Police Commissioner. Crump wanted to get him out of 
town. He sent him as Congressman to Washington. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Was that how that happened? 
DR. CAPERS: That's right. And brought, oh, I've forgotten the 

guy now. But Crump's power in Tennessee... He 
cleaned up the city so far as prostitution and stuff like that was 
concerned. But the elections were crooked. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Now he didn't clean up the prostitution until the 

late thirties? 
DR. CAPERS: That's right. But he could get, in a Tennessee 

election... He and K.D. McKellar. What he'd do 
is... They never counted the Shelby votes till last. And whatever 
they needed to win, they'd get from Shelby, see? And that's the 
way that worked. But something I was going to tell you, I was 
just thinking about... Well, it'll come to me in a minute. Oh 
yes, Cliff [Davis]. The last time I saw him he had come to New 
Orleans there at the Roosevelt. But the way, all of the hotels 
have changed names down there, now. They call it the Roosevelt 
Sheraton or something like that now. And they tore down the St. 
Charles and the Germany has become something else. We've got some 
big new hotels in New Orleans now. Hilton Inn and stuff like 
that. Of course, they've got the Superdome now. 
DR. CRAWFORD: The Roosevelt is still there now, or isn't it the 

Sheraton Roosevelt now? 
DR. CAPERS: But Cliff knew my mother real well, see. And Cliff 

couldn't drink bourbon. He drank... had to drink 
gin. Well, I just had a couple of drinks and he had about ten. 
So he said, "Let's call your mother." So we called her. She 
said, "Cliff, please don't let Gerald get drunk." [Laughter] 
That's the last time I... You know, he was head of this whatever 
the committee was on rivers. They'd come down in the spring and 
spend two weeks going down to New Orleans on the steamboat, play 
poker, drink, and have a big time. He was always going to take me 
on it, but he never got around to it. But he was a leading 
Baptist. I was brought up in the Baptist Church, but ray 
grandfather on the other side was an Episcopal Minister. He was a 
leader in B.Y.P.U. [Baptist Young People's Union] 

DR. CRAWFORD: He went to church — Sunday School every Sunday 

and carried a white Bible. 
DR. CAPERS: First Baptist. But I used to see him every now and 

then in Washington. But you know who beat him? He 
got licked. Oh, the guy that was in the Navy and... 
DR. CRAWFORD: George Grider. 
DR. CAPERS: George beat him. You know what they say about 

Cliff? He was one of the six congressmen who got 
shot by the Puerto Ricans when they tried to get Truman. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Late forties, wasn't it? How did that happen? 
DR. CAPERS: They just walked in there and fired away at them. 

But Cliff happened to get in the way. Well I tell 
you he was really getting too old. But he was an able guy. But 
I'm trying to think of somebody else... 

DR. CRAWFORD: What was the effect of his getting shot? 
DR. CAPERS: Made him popular, that's all. 
DR. CRAWFORD: It was not a serious wound, was it? 
DR. CAPERS: No, he was not a hero. Probably got shot in the 

butt or something like that. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I think he really did. [Laughter] 
DR. CAPERS: But the most influential people here, Crump's 

right-hand man was Ed Rice? 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, at least for a while. Or was it Frank 

DR. CAPERS: Frank Rice. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Frank Rice, yes. 
DR. CAPERS: But there was somebody else. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Francis Andrews, for a while. Will Gerber. 

DR. CAPERS: Yes, Will Gerber. Yes. 

DR. CRAWFORD: They sort of changed positions now and then. 

DR. CAPERS: Well, you know, Crump wasn't going to let anybody 

get built up. But he wouldn't run for mayor again, 
after he got impeached. But I tell you, I'll have to send you 
this article. 

DR. CRAWFORD: I'd like to have a copy of it. 
DR. CAPERS: Because what I said about Crump, he was really a 

city manager. And for no amount of money could you 
have got as good a city manager as that. Because he paid 
attention to Memphis. 

DR. CRAWFORD: How efficient was he, Dr. Capers? 
DR. CAPERS: Well, he protected Memphis. You see, Knoxville and 

Chattanooga and Nashville could gang up on Memphis, 
but he could protect them from that. Well, I don't know. Streets 
were improved, [we] had, even then one of the best fire 
departments in the United States. But when I came here in the 
twenties, Memphis was the murder capitol of the United States 
absolutely! But, no, he did a good thing for Memphis, but all I 
said was that elections were really just plebiscites and that 
Memphis was someday going to pay the price for that after Mr. 
Crump was gone, because it's important to be able to elect pretty 
good men. And if you get out of the habit of doing that, you see, 
there's going to be a decline in the quality of the officials. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well it has happened after his death. 
DR. CAPERS: Oh, I know that. I predicted that. I said they 


were going to pay the price for it. Well, so did 
Louisiana after Huey Long. Well look, besides Al, this, who's 
the guy that writes for the Commercial? Colton or something like 

DR. CRAWFORD: Paul Coppock. 
DR. CAPERS: He knows a lot. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, he does. As a matter of fact, he's going 

to join us for dinner about six fifteen, if that's 
all right. 
DR. CAPERS: Yes. As a matter of fact, I've been trying to get 

him to... He ought to do a biography of Crump. 
DR. CRAWFORD: He is one of the few people who could. 


DR. CRAWFORD: He'll be introducing you tonight. 
DR. CAPERS: Well say, Ricky wrote me... Sent me a copy of 

something he wrote for the Egyptians that was 
pretty good. Or maybe he gave it to me. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Was it recently? I've only been a member a few 

DR. CAPERS: No, this was four or five years ago. But it was 

about Memphis politics. 
DR. CRAWFORD: No, I did not hear about that one. 
DR. CAPERS: He's very knowledgeable, [Al] Ricky is. But I'll 

tell you about a funny thing that happened to him. 
Now I was going to get in service. In fact, I was the second 
person at Tulane to get in, but I was critical. I was 
isolationist and the university is no place to be in wartime, 

because you can't say what you want to. Well, I was just going to 
enlist and go to OTS [Officer Training School] or something, OCS 
[Officer Candidate School]. But I got a direct commission as a 
second lieutenant and I spend three years in the Carribean. I 
ended up a captain. But now Ricky had already gotten a law 
degree, and they got him and you know what they did instead of 
putting him in the Adjutant General Corps? Sent him to Maryland 
and made a theoretical base out of him. Now what the hell is a 
theoretical base? He ended up in the commissary department in the 
Pacific. [Laughter] Well you know Jerry Dunsitute? 
DR. CRAWFORD: I have met him. I don't really know him, sir. 
DR. CAPERS: Well he and Ricky were both at Yale. In fact, 

Arthur Halle Jr. and George Norris, he's dead now. 
But there were a lot of boys I knew. As a matter of fact, I 
started a club, more or less as a joke, called the Memphis in Yale 
Club. And the head officer was the Colonel. Well I was the 
Colonel. And the secretary was the Slave and Ricky was the 
secretary. And I did it really more or less as a... Really, what 
I wanted to do. Yale did a very important thing in the thirties 
besides building these college dormitories. They started letting 
boys from Denver and Atlanta and Spokane in without College 
Boards. And they have them scholarships. Well of course, a lot 
of the boys up there are rich boys, prep school boys, so I 
figured if we could found this club, you had to be from 
Mississippi, Tennessee, or Arkansas to belong. We did have a guy 
from Oklahoma one time. Well, the charter of the club says, "The 
purpose of this club is to preserve the culture of the old South 


in the hostile atmosphere of the provincial East." [Laughter] 

And we'd go down to the New Haven Green on the anniversary of the 

Civil War battles that the Confederates had won and give the Rebel 

Yell. But nobody knew the Rebel Yell, see? The big blow-out was 

on Robert E. Lee's birthday. Boy, we had a banquet and 

everything. But I was there eight years. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You went on through graduate school there. 

DR. CAPERS: Yes. And taught there, of course. In fact the 

only reason I left there, I was coming back south. 
One time I went back to Chicago with my brother and met a gal at 
an office party. She was a Minnesota Swede. And married her the 
third time I ever saw her. But I figured Yale was not the place 
to take her. So I came home Christmas, and I heard about a job 
from my professor down at New Orleans. But I just flew down there 
and got a job. But that's how I came south anyway. But what 
would have happened, if I hadn't gotten married, I'd have just 
gone back in the service a little quicker. But I got in in 
September of 'forty-two. 

But you know what tickles me, every now and then I say 
someting to my classes about the Depression or World War II. 

Well, hell, they weren't even born then. They don't know a d 

thing about it. I just forgot. [Laughter] But you know, I was 
just thinking the other day. It's been thirty years since World 
War II ended. We've had two more wars - Korean and Vietnam. But 
my God, it's been forty-eight years since I taught at Fairview. 
As a matter of fact, I've been teaching almost fifty years. 

But you know how I learned to teach? In the Boy Scouts. 

1 1 

See, I used to have to teach trees, and birds, and snakes and 
stars and stuff like that. And what you've got to do, I think, to 
be a successful teacher is to be able to go over the elementary 
points of your subject that may bore you but don't get too 
abstruse and just do that. But I believe I learned more from the 
Scouts than I did in school, maybe. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I wouldn't doubt it. Now you were at Camp 

Kai-Kima, Arkansas, a while weren't you? 
DR. CAPERS: Yes. I went there six years on the staff, and then 

I directed it from 'thirty, 'thirty-one, 'thirty- 
two. But you know what they did? They sold it some years ago to 
this guy from Hot Springs that's got the place up there. Rio 
Vista? No. They sold it to Cherokee Village. 
DR. CAPERS: And the last time I was up there, I had to swim a 

river to get up there to see it, five or six years 
ago. But the Memphis camp has moved way up to SouthFork now. Way 
up above the Jonesboro camp. Well, you said y'awl used to go to 
Hardy, your family, huh? 

DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir. As a matter of fact, we lived in the 
river valley there further down the river. We were there before 
Arkansas was a state or a territory so I know that country well. 
DR. CAPERS: You know what I used to do, though? There's a YWCA 

camp and a Girl Scout camp down the river. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Was Mirimeechee the Girl Scout camp? 
DR. CAPERS: No, Mirimeechee was the YWCA camp. Camp Kiwanis 


was the Girl Scout camp. It's up on the hill and 
the other's on the river. Well, Wahepton Hill was a famous place 
where people from Memphis came, you see. Well I used to, every 
night, walk three miles in and three miles back out. And you've 
got to go over Cedar Ridge to get there. But my friend Tommy 
Bronson has got a wonderful house up there on the Wahepton now. 
Of course, I don't think they rent out cottages any more. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well it's quite a tradition for people from Memphis 

to go up to Spring River. You know the Frisco Line 
made it so convenient then. 
DR. CAPERS: You know what used to happen then? Arkansas was 

dry and Missouri was wet. And when we run out of 
liquor, usually about Sunday morning, you had to drive all the way 
up past Mammoth Springs to the first town in Missouri. Missouri 
used to have the cheapest cigarettes and the cheapest liquor in 
the nation because the taxes weren't very high. 
DR. CRAWFORD: That was about Thayer, Missouri, I believe. 
DR. CAPERS: Yes, Thayer. But you know, that road going up 

there from Hardy, that used to be a hell of a road. 
When it was gravel? They've long since paved it. 
DR. CRAWFORD: It still has a lot of curves in it. 
DR. CAPERS: Oh, yes. Well, going to Hardy, used to take you 

about ten hours. At the bottom of ever hill was a 
creek. You can make it in two and a half now. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well I remember after World War II, which I can 

remember, it was still unpaved then. 


DR. CRAWFORD: Dr. Capers, what was it like... 

DR. CAPERS: Jerry. 

DR. CRAWFORD: What was it like in Crump's city in the twenties, 

being a student? Do you remember how people felt 
about it? 
DR. CAPERS: Well, you see, my mother always fought Crump. I 

think he was a little scared of her. But all the 
vast majority of people in Memphis had great admiration for Mr. 
Crump. There was a minority. Now his big enemy was the City 
Editor of the Commercial Appeal . 
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember now who? 
DR. CAPERS: No, he's dead now. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Meeman? 
DR. CAPERS: No, but this guy, if you want to find out something 

about a town, talk to a city editor. They have to 
know more than anybody. But this was Crump's mortal enemy, see. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well I believe that... Need some matches? 
DR. CAPERS: Yes, I've got some. No, I've got wooden matches. 

I've been using paper. You know, for a pipe- 
smoker, d little paper matches burn your hand before you can 

get the pipe lit. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, I've noticed. I'm a pipe-smoker... 

DR. CAPERS: But finally got these today. You know what I've 

got at home? Kitchen matches. I keep a box of 
kitchen matches in my living room and one in my kitchen. 'Cause 
they're big enough. Well look, how long have you been out at 
Memphis State? 


MS. HUTTON: It seems like forever. I've been there full time 

since 1971 in every capacity imaginable. 
DR. CAPERS: Are you married? 

MS. HUTTON: I used to be. I married a New Orleans boy. 
DR. CAPERS: Were you a [Sophie] Newcomb? 

MS. HUTTON: Yes. So did my sister, but she stayed married. 
DR. CRAWFORD: And stayed in New Orleans. 
MS. HUTTON: Yes. Intelligent girl. 
DR. CAPERS: Well my first wife was a Minnesota Swede. A very 

beautiful girl, very good cook, but the most 
jealous thing I ever saw in my life. Now the whole time we were 
married, ten years, I never went with another woman. And every 
month I was supposed to be sleeping with some woman and she would 
decide that was a mistake. But once she finally accused me of a 
student is why I finally got a divorce. Then about four years 
later I married a Louisiana Cajun who loved to fish. She had a 
little step-daughter. And by George, she'd get drunk. She run me 
out of the house about twenty times with a shotgun. So I finally 
took about all of that I could stand. My third wife was head of 
the art school down there. And she was a New York Quaker. But 
she's in about three feet of snow now, because she's got a place 
in the Berkshires, just out of Albany. Well she wanted me to 
leave New Orleans and go back to Yale or some place. Well I 
wasn't about to leave New Orleans. 

DR. CRAWFORD: You'd be in about three feet of snow now. 
DR. CAPERS: Sure would. But hunting and fishing both salt and 
fresh are so good in New Orleans. I probably would 


have left but for that. But I wouldn't have gone back up there. 

Well she retired before I did. She was five years older and I 

think it was the spring of '70 or '71 she was going up in April to 

plant a garden. She's got a lot of land and a two-story house and 

an old red barn. And by gosh, if she didn't write me and say, "I 

don't want to live in New Orleans any more. I'm not coming back." 

And I tried to talk her out of getting a divorce, but I didn't 

succeed . 

MS. HUTTON: Where do you live in New Orleans? 

DR. CAPERS: Near the Huey Long Bridge off of Central Avenue. 

I've had a house right there for about twenty 
years. And people say, "Why don't you sell it and get an 
apartment?" Well I've got a yard and a house and before she went 
back she stole six thousand dollars from me in two years. I used 
to entertain. And I've got a garage full of fishing tackle and 
everything else. I'd go crazy in an apartment. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well now you're free to travel and fish and hunt, 

DR. CAPERS: Yes. In fact, if it weren't so cold up here now, 

I'd go fishing now but I don't fish around here 
after Thanksgiving, usually. But I usually head for Arkansas. 
But I tell you, a good place to go fishing is Tunica Cutoff down 
in Mississippi. It's an old river cut-off. It's a humding 

DR. CRAWFORD: What do you fish for there? 
DR. CAPERS: Bass and Crappie and Brim. 
DR. CRAWFORD: You mentioned the White River in Arkansas which is 


good for that, particularly on the upper reaches. 
DR. CAPERS: I never did have much luck at Horseshoe, but I 

usually go to East Lake and get a cabin. It's just 
out in Clarendon. Holly Springs. Or is it Holly Grove? Holly 
Grove. You know what I didn't know? I was reading and did you 
know that they've got a University for Holiday Inns down here at 
Olive Branch? They've got lakes and golf courses and everything 
else. I didn't know about that. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I've never seen it, but I know of it. I know it's 

DR. CAPERS: Well I was telling somebody today, I taught summer 

school at Old Miss in 'thirty-eight and I haven't 
been back to Oxford since then. It used to be a hell of a getting 
there, from here to there. Gravel roads. I owned about four or 
five Model T's and three or four Model A's, but if people are 
going to go any distance, if you're goin to go from here to New 
Orleans, you put wood in your car in case you had to camp out at 
night. [Laughter] 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, that's improved. I was at Old Miss for three 

years and you can drive down there now in an hour 
and a half. 

DR. CAPERS: Sure. Take 55 across from Batesville. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes. An hour and a half easily. 
DR. CAPERS: Well, whereabouts do you live in Memphis? Do you 

live at Memphis State? 
DR. CRAWFORD: No sir, in the east part of town. As a matter of 

fact, it would not have been in Memphis when you 


were here, because it's past the expressway, 240? 

DR. CAPERS: What, near Gerraantown? 

DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, just inside Memphis from Germantown. 

DR. CAPERS: Well you know, I didn't have your letter and there 

are two or three Charles Crawfords and I called 
somebody on Cherokee, I think, see. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, it's a problem. I should have given you the 

home number. There are several here. I didn't 
think of that. I was trying to reach you, not Saturday, because 
I was in Nashville, but Sunday, to see if you had checked in, but 
you had not arrived yet. 

DR. CAPERS: You know, Nashville has had a hell of a winter. 
MS. HUTTON: They had a lot of snow. He's been up there. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I was up there Saturday. 
DR. CAPERS: For a meeting? 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir. I'm on the Tennessee Historical 

Commission and we had a meeting for that purpose. 
DR. CAPERS: Well I haven't been to Vanderbilt in a long time 

but. . . 
DR. CRAWFORD: It has changed very little except for some new 

dormitories. I was there Saturday. 
DR. CAPERS: Well look, is the Tennessee Historical Commission 

pretty active? 
DR. CRAWFORD: We have an annual budget of a little more than a 

half a million dollars, which is not a great deal 
for a state, but it's enough to get publications, you know, pay 
for books, journals, keep the historical marker program, and give 


grants to sites. That's what we manage to do with it, mostly. 

DR. CAPERS: Well, look. I knew Enoch Mitchell. Is the History 

Department at Memphis State pretty large, now? 
DR. CRAWFORD: Twenty-six or -seven I believe now. Does that 

sound about the right number? I seldom count them, 
but I believe twenty-six or -seven. 
DR. CAPERS: That's more than we have at Tulane. We're not as 

big a school as you. 
DR. CRAWFORD: That's true. 
DR. CAPERS: Our undergraduate body I don't suppose is more... 

Well, it goes up every year. So does tuition. 
They're going to go up four hundred dollars more... And you know 
what Southwestern is? 
MS. HUTTON: They've just gone up. 
DR. CAPERS: Thirty-one hundred! 
MS. HUTTON: No. They've just gone up. They're going to be 

thirty-four hundred fifty dollars or something next 
DR. CRAWFORD: And with boarding it costs five thousand plus. 

They have gone up. 
DR. CAPERS: Well now you know the best thing that ever happened 

to Southwestern was Memphis State because a lot of 
people that can't afford to go to Southwestern, they have to give 
too many scholarships. Now the same thing is happening in New 
Orleans. University of New Orleans out on Lakefront is a pretty 

d good school. But if I wasn't a professor I wouldn't send 

anybody to Tulane. I'd send them out there. They have more of a 


turnover on their faculty than we do. Do y'awl have much 


DR. CRAWFORD: No. People there can't get another job. 

DR. CAPERS: Well not now, I know. 
DR. CRAWFORD: There is comparatively little turnover. Most of 

our people aren't very well-known nationally for 
one thing, and then you know how the job market is for history. 
DR. CAPERS: Well I had a good friend from Memphis. He got his 

Ph.D. and he's teaching at Lehigh now. He taught 

at Memphis State. And he organized an AAUP out there and d if 

the administration didn't fire him. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Let's see. Which one was that, sir? 

DR. CAPERS: John Ellis. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Yes. Is John at Lehigh now? 

DR. CAPERS: Yes. He went from here to some place in Kentucky. 

DR. CRAWFORD: A Baptist school, I believe. 

DR. CAPERS: Yes, and to Lehigh. Well now he was at the 

Southern. Did you go to there? 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, and I saw him. I did not get to see you 

there. I meant to ask you about this program. But 
I did not get to see John. I got to speak to him briefly there. 
DR. CAPERS: Well, I invited about ten of ray ex-students out to 

my house and he couldn't come because he had eaten 
some oysters or something that upset him. But nobody showed up 
except a girl who got her masters under me. A real pretty girl. 
She's married to a boy at Auburn. So after I had made 


preparations and taken care to I'd get there in time and bought 
liquor and everything else, instead of twelve people coming out, 
two did. Well, of course, at a meeting you have to expect those 
things. Anyway, about half of them were in the French Quarter. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Last year some of our students got over to the 

French Quarter. 
DR. CAPERS: You know, I never go over to the French Quarter 

unless I have visitors in town. 
MS. HUTTON: Nobody does who lives there. It's purely 

DR. CAPERS: Well when I was younger, when we'd have a party at 

night, we'd probably end up at the quarter. But 
these Memphis people, you see, they're really titilated by it. 
Strip-teases and things like that, you see. Well how big is 
Memphis State now? Ten thousand? 
DR. CRAWFORD: No sir, I'll have to admit, it's about twenty-one 

thousand now, I believe. 
DR. CAPERS: Good God! 
DR. CRAWFORD: And each student seems to have a car and a half, 

or something like that. 
DR. CAPERS: Ours do too. You can't park within four blocks of 

Tulane. And you know what gets me about students? 
They'll spend fifteen minutes driving around so that they can get 
one block closer. Now I'll park four blocks out and walk. I just 
don't worry about that. But with the decline in the birthrate, 
there's going to be a drop in enrollment for the colleges. 
MS. HUTTON: There already has been. 


DR. CAPERS: It's going to be serious for the colleges. That's 

why more and more now, they have to raise tuition. 
DR. CRAWFORD: We have trouble placing our graduate students, 

finding work for them. I know you have the same 
problem down there. Our best students usually get work and 
Marilyn is going to get a job, but we don't know where yet. 
DR. CAPERS: Where do you want to go? 
MS. HUTTON: Anywhere that will pay me. 

DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know a place where they will pay salaries? 
DR. CAPERS: There might be a job in Newcomb sometime. She's 

got a Ph.D. there. Sylvia Pryor from Louisiana. 
I think we've got one other girl on the faculty. We don't have 
any Negroes and I don't understand how we can get by under this 
new education act. 

MS. HUTTON: I was just wondering that. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Of course, being a private institution made it 

easier, I'm sure. 
DR. CAPERS: But they still could deny your grants. Well 

inflation has hurt a lot. And I'll tell you 
something else that really hurt, too. Minimum wage. That made 
your wages go way up for your help. And something else. Just 
raising the sewage and water rates twenty-five percent in New 
Orleans, see. Twenty-five percent. Tulane's a poor school. It's 
the poorest private institution in the South. You know how much 
of an endowment? We've been running in a deficit. Well, what 
burns me about it, and I was a football player and an athlete, we 
used a half a million dollars on our football team and pay the 


lowest salaries, lower than Vanderbilt, lower than Emory, lower 
than Duke and comparable schools. But the basketball team, I 
don't think they won but three games out of ten. Oh, some of them 
were close. But what's going to be a hot tournament, March the 
second and third. That Metro idea was a good one. A small enough 
conference, but it will be a knock-down drag-out between Memphis 
State and Florida State or maybe Cincinatti. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, we'll be watching it. 
DR. CAPERS: Well, I used to go to basketball games. In some 

ways it's the best sport to watch because it's so 
fast. And most games are close, by and large, but I think I'd 
really rather see baseball than anything else. We don't have a 
baseball team any more, but we're probably going to get one, with 
the Superdome down there. Have you ever been in it? 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well I have seen the outside. 
DR. CAPERS: When you get inside, it's three times bigger than 

the outside. You know they play football in it. 
Trying to get a pro football team, too. They're trying to get it 
here in Memphis, I read in the paper. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I'd say New Orleans is a lot more likely than 

Memphis to get one. 
MS. HUTTON: Well they've got what pretends to be a pro football 

team now. 
DR. CAPERS: Is it the coliseum they play in in Memphis? I 

never have been. 
MS. HUTTON: It's a real nice place. It's not nearly as nice as 

the Superdome. We have the Coliseum, which is the 


enclosed structure, and then the Memorial Stadium, which, I don't 

know why the call it the Memorial Stadium. 

DR. CAPERS: Well listen, they used to play football games at 

Crump Stadium at Central High, named after him. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember seeing Mr. Crump there? 
DR. CAPERS: Yes. He lived right down at the end of — my 

mother had a place on Peabody. He lived down there 
by Rembert and Peabody. Not a very sumptuous house. 
DR. CRAWFORD: And it's still there? 
DR. CRAWFORD: What was it like at the football games when he 

DR. CAPERS: Oh, he was a firm advocate. But you know what? He 

loved birds, and at the end of his life, he started 
a war on cats. [Laughter] 
DR. CRAWFORD: What happened? 
DR. CAPERS: Well I'll tell you what happened to him. One of 

his sons got killed in an airplane crash. 
DR. CRAWFORD: John, I believe it was. 
DR. CAPERS: And I think that upset the old man. Well, Mrs. 

Randall drove me. I've been across the new bridge 
but she drove me up to town and showed me the mall and we went up 
to the Everett Cook Auditorium. I was amazed. That's a pretty big 
place. They added to the auditorium and everything. But they 
don't have enough hotels there. Is it the Peabody? I thought it 
went bankrupt. Claridge is gone, Chisca is gone, Gayoso is gone. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Downtown is really suffering a decline. 



DR. CRAWFORD: Now they're re-opening the Peabody day-after- 
tomorrow for a special event. Mrs. Lyndon Johnson 
is coming and we're having a lunch down there. But it's just for 
special things like that unless the owners make quite a change. 
DR. CAPERS: Well look, somebody told me, isn't there a Howard 

Johnson downtown that's pretty big, or is there? 
DR. CRAWFORD: No, I believe not now. 
DR. CAPERS: Well what people could do... 
DR. CRAWFORD: There's a Holiday Inn. 
DR. CAPERS: There are enough Holiday Inns to stay in but if the 

hotel could be right down there where the meeting 
was it would be a lot easier for transportation. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I'd like to see that. I'd like to see the downtown 

area rebuilt. 
DR. CAPERS: Now New Orleans suffered some on Canal Street, but 

not that bad. But I think a lot of cities have 
some problems because people move out to the suburbs and you've 
got shopping centers and everything. Why go downtown? There was 
a day when you had to go downtown to go to a bank and then banks 
started moving out. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Now they're all over town — everywhere. Where 

were the city limits when you were here? 
DR. CAPERS: Just a half a mile from Parkway. At the overpass 

on Poplar, the first railroad overpass, that's 
where they were. Right there. And I'll tell you something about 
Memphis. The reason why it moved east. For a long long time 


nobody would move south of Nonconnah Creek or north of the Wolf 
River. It should have expanded that way, but they just went 
straight out east. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Now I have wondered why. Do you know if Mr. Crump 

had anything to do with the real estate movement? 
DR. CAPERS: I always suspected because he was in that business, 

DR. CRAWFORD: I have heard that he blocked movement north by 

preventing the bridging of the Wolf River and 
preventing the development of the streets to the south also, but I 
don't know that. 

DR. CAPERS: Well now, people did live in Whitehaven. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Mr. Hale was down there, you know. 
DR. CAPERS: Yes. Which is still in the city limits now. And 

then they've got what, Southaven that's in 
DR. CAPERS: Well we had a scout camp down in Eudora, 

Mississippi. That's about five miles west of 
Hernando. Somebody gave us a square mile of virgin timber, and my 
troop built the first log cabin down there. They've torn it down 
since then, see. Troop 19« But we finally got a lake on the 
place by damming up a valley. That was wonderful. We'd just go 
there for weekends. Then we'd go to Hardy in the summertime. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I have camped at both of them. 
DR. CAPERS: Have you? 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes. I can't remember what it's called, though. 


Is it Currier, Camp Currier? 
DR. CAPERS: Camp Currier. That's what it is. Like Currier 

and Ives. The lady that gave it to us was Mrs. 
Currier. But it was virgin timber. And I tell you how they did 
that log cabin. They cut, it was hickory and ash and oak and left 
it out for about two years. Boy, you had to nail that thing with 
a sledge hammer. And then half the time you couldn't. And what 
you did, bark was on one side and you would have to cut it with a 
cross-cut saw and fit the corners, see. We built a loft in it to 
double the floor space. The loft was rough lumber and there were 
cracks in it and guys up there could drop nails on the boys below, 
see. But we got some little cotton mattresses and when there were 
a bunch of them down there, you had to sleep three guys on two 
mattresses. Of course, the youngest always got the crack. But 
how did you happen to go to Eudora? Were you in the scouts? 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir. 
DR. CAPERS: What troop? 
DR. CRAWFORD: The new troops, troops 64 and 364. I worked with 

them here. Now I was a Boy Scout, but in Arkansas. 
I worked with the Boy Scouts here in Memphis. 
DR. CAPERS: Well let me tell you something funny about that. 

Camp Kai-Kima was just for Memphis camp. But 
occasionally, well, we let one boy in from Arkansas one time and 
we let three guys in from Greenville, Mississippi. Donald 
Weatherby, Shelby Foote, the novelist, and a guy named Benny 
McGee. Well, I spent, in October, I spent about a half a day with 
Shelby. By the way, they're raving about his book he wrote. He 


said he wished he'd never started it. He spent twelve years 
writing three volumes on the Civil War -- a narrative. And he 
takes it day by day. 

Now I'm not much of a Civil War guy. People think I am, but 
I'm not. Well, he was just twelve, and they had a quiet hour 
right after lunch. And they were supposed to sleep or rest or 
write letters, but they're not supposed to talk. And I caught old 
Shelby singing a new verse to Casey Jones. And here's what the 
verse was. He said, "Casey Jones was a dude you know. He drove 
his wagon through the whorehouse door." And that's how I know he 
was a genius. [Laughter] Well you know he wrote four or five 
novels before he did his last one. And he's just written a 
novel . 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, I think it's doing well. It was favorably 

reviewed at any rate. I can't remember what it's 
called, but it's set in Memphis in the 1950's. 
DR. CAPERS: But he's got a house out there on Parkway, you 

know. I don't know how long. I haven't seen 
Shelby for four or five years. But he, for a while, he had a big 
beard. He doesn't have one any more. But you know they almost 
ran him out of Memphis when he first... the novels he wrote, so 
sympathetic to Negroes. Oh boy, the American Legion and other 
people got angry. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, people in Oxford didn't like Faulkner's 

novels and there were a few complaints about your 
writing about Memphis, too, I remember. 
DR. CAPERS: Oh yes, sure. Well you know I never did meet 


Faulkner. But I am president of the chapter of Phi 
Beta Kappa and we have an initiation banquet and have a lecture 
and everything. And I got a friend of mine. I think he's died. 
He went to Ole Miss. Jim Silver. They almost ran him out of 
town. But he finally left and went to Notre Dame. He like to 
froze himself to death and then he went to MIT and then they paid 
him big money to come down to the University of, I think it was, 
West Florida or something. But he had me down there to lecture 
and I got him up to lecture. He knew Faulkner real well. 
DR. CRAWFORD: That was how I met Faulker. He was my professor at 

Ole Miss. 
DR. CAPERS: Well I tell you, Jim always had skin trouble. He 

didn't come to the Southern. He usually does. But 
he fell and broke his hip. And I've been meaning, I think, well, 
he'd be retired because he's a couple of years older than I am. 

But he was a d good teacher. 

DR. CRAWFORD: He certainly was. I learned a lot from him. 

DR. CAPERS: He's a good poker player too. 

DR. CRAWFORD: I've heard that. 

DR. CAPERS: But I wrote him and asked him if he was coming to 

the Southern and I should have called Dutch and 
found out. I think I talked to her about three or four months ago 
and he was in the hospital. But I tell you what they were doing. 
They had an agreement that he could teach until he was seventy and 
they were trying to run out on that so I think he was fighting the 
powers that be. Something else I was going to tell you. Well you 
mentioned Hale a while ago. Now he was a guy that was real close 


to Crump. 

DR. CRAWFORD: He was the political boss of Whitehaven, wasn't he? 

E. W. Hale, I believe it was. 
DR. CAPERS: Well see, ray mother lived to be ninety-eight. She 

died in '73« Daddy died when he was sixty-six. He 
was a printer for The Commercial Appeal . But my sisters tell me a 
wonderful story. Mother had political meetings in the side yard 
when we had this house on Union and Cox, had a big side yard. 
There was a judge and a congressman there one time, and she heard 

the judge ask the congressman, "Why the h did you come to 

this?" and the guy said, "H , I was scared not to." [Laughter] 

DR. CRAWFORD: What were her relations with Mr. Crump? 

DR. CAPERS: Oh boy, she fought him tooth and nail. But he was 

a good friend of hers. I mean, he liked her. Of 
course, it didn't make any difference. As a matter of fact, when 
he died, his power was still undiminished. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Well who managed it after he was gone? Who 

operated the machine? 
DR. CAPERS: Well how is your mayor now, any good? 
DR. CRAWFORD: He works hard. I don't think he's very effective, 

but then no one has been since Mr. Crump left. And 
you know now we have two mayors, a county mayor and a city mayor. 
DR. CAPERS: Yes. Oh, now Ricky had presented some big plan 

about them getting together there and they turned 
it down. 

DR. CRAWFORD: A merger of the city and county? 
DR. CAPERS: That's right. 


DR. CRAWFORD: What was it called? Program for Progress, 

something like that? They were trying to 
consolidate and it did not work. But they'll try again. 
DR. CAPERS: Well look, you holler when we've got to go because 

all I've got to do is put on my coat. 
MS. HUTTON: The city supported it and the county didn't. 
DR. CRAWFORD: That's right. The city supported it and the 

county didn't. Let's see. We should be leaving in 
a few minutes I guess to meet Paul Coppock. 
DR. CAPERS: You know, I've never met him. I've talked to him 

on the phone. He had a good review, my sister sent 
me a copy, of sort of the whole historiography of the history of 
Memphis. I think it was in the Sunday paper. But didn't he write 
a column or something? 
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, every Sunday. 
DR. CAPERS: And I ask him, "Look. Why don't you..." And a 

friend of mine had a column called Ray Millard and 
he took some of his best pieces and published it in a book. He 
calls it, oh, Exotic Beyonds . Some other name, but I liked to 
have laughed myself to death. I said, "Lydel, why don't you 
collect some of the stuff you've written and put it out?" He said 
he throws the stuff he writes away. That's amazing to me. Maybe 
he doesn't want to repeat himself. 
DR. CRAWFORD: I don't know. 

DR. CAPERS: But he's just got a marvelous sense of humor. 
DR. CRAWFORD: He really has. 
DR. CAPERS: Yes, I read it every time I get here. I borrowed 


a canoe. My last wife and I took it down the 
Buffalo River in Arkansas. It runs into the White. And you get 
into the Buffalo, you can't get out for two days. Well they'd 
already fished it out. It was too late in the year. But he'd 
bought the canoe from Tommy. I burnt my canoe up a long time ago 
and haven't had one since. Well, I had a Pirogue which I used for 
duck hunting, but when they stopped me from duck hunting I gave it 
to the boy next door. The only time I ever turned over, I never 
turned over unless I did it deliberately. 
DR. CRAWFORD: That's remarkable. I thought practically everyone 

turned over in a canoe. 
DR. CAPERS: I was the only person, you know, that between camp 

and where it goes into the Spring, Rio Vista, there 
are four rapids. And I was the only guy on the staff that could 
shoot it in the dark. And the way I learned how to shoot that, 
normally a canoe is going to go where the current is, but you 
listen to the murmur of the water. That's how you tell where to 
DR. CRAWFORD: I'm glad to hear that. I always look for the 

smooth water between the rough water and I turn 
over sometimes. 
DR. CAPERS: Well now I'll tell you what we did do. We used to 

do it deliberately. And you can do this, it's a 
funny thing to do. At camp we had the mail detail every day. 
Well boys liked that because they got to go to town. They had to 
walk in and get the mail, but they would buy a banana split you 
called a Johnson Special, but they would get dressed up. Well you 


can be in a canoe with three other guys and make the canoe turn 
over and blame it on them and they will apologize for it, see. 
They used to get these boys dressed up and you've got to go across 
the camp river, you see. You couldn't get there by roads unless 
you could go to the rapids way down. And when they'd be all 
dressed up, every now and then we'd just turn them over. 
DR. CRAWFORD: That was Camp Kai-Kima at Hardy? 
DR. CAPERS: Oh, by the way, have you met Alvin Tate here at the 

Summit Club? 
DR. CRAWFORD: I have, but I have not talked with him. 
DR. CAPERS: Well he was ray executive officer. And there was a 

boy named Fritz Schultz, all Memphis Center from 
Southside. He committed suicide during the war. Well, we go down 
to this Girl Scout Camp, and you take a canoe and go down, but the 
rapids are right above that YWCA camp, you see. And of course, 
down below you'd have to wade back up. But if you cross the river 
and went down, there was a field with a lot of tall grass in it. 
And one night they had some kind of show there at the YW camp. 
What we did, every Friday night one of the three camps would have 
a show. They would just take turns. And Tate was the guy in 
charge of that. But we took six canoes. And we used to get 
dressed up in golf knickers, see. Took six canoes down there and 
you had to walk about a block from where you left the canoes down 
to the YW camp. Well somebody decided to leave and I decided to 
leave. And he took a canoe and I took four other canoes. Put 
them on a line and paddled up to camp and left them. Eight poor 
bastards down there with one canoe. Meanwhile it had rained, see. 


[Laughter] Five of them tried to go in the canoe, and of course, 
they turned over. The other three walked through the field and 
got wet from all the bushes. Well, I got there. They knew I had 
done it. And I was in my lodge and Alvin Tate and this guy 
Schultz snuck up there and they had it prearranged. They got two 
buckets of water and the guy across the river yelled "BOAT!" When 
you've got to cross the river, you yell "BOAT!" Boy, they threw 
water all over me. 

Well I got up and poured water in their bunks. Because they 
ran. And then I decided, boy, they're going to be after me. So 
we had a Negro cook named Ike Baskins, and he cooked for 
Southwestern too. THe cook's lodge was right by the mess hall. I 
went down there and I said, "Ike, you'd better let me sleep here 
tonight." Well the first thing you know, I hear a big roar. 
Schultz and Tate saying, "Where is that little bastard?" 
[Laughter ] 

I got up early the next morning and I went up there and I 
said, "Did you ever find the guys that poured water in our bunks?" 

They said, "H , you did it." I said, "You don't think I'd pour 

water in my own bunk, do you?" [Laughter] Well, there was 
something like that always going on at camp, see. Always. 

In fact, we had a reunion here a couple of years ago at the 
Summit Club. Oh, it must have been three hundred people from 
Kai-kima, see. I saw people I hadn't seen in forty years. 
DR. CRAWFORD: Who arranged that, Alvin Tate? 

DR. CAPERS: Alvin and Charlotte Standage Bird. She married... 
George's older brother was a Memphis man. He lived 


on Belvedere. Now it was a real nice party. But I tell you what 
they did. Of all the fool things to do. Of course, people 
mingled around and had drinks. But they ate and then they had 
Norman Van Powell, who's dead now, but he was an architect and... 
DR. CRAWFORD: A painter. 
DR. CAPERS: Painted naval ships that he got five hundred bucks 

for. But he was one of the funniest guys when he 
was young. He's older now. You know, they let him talk for an 
hour and a half? I told Tate, I've never seen anything as dumb 
as that in my life. Because, you know, my brother came up from 
Chattanooga with his wife and he was bored. They should have let 
them sing camp songs and stuff like that. 

I'll tell you two things. The best song we had at camp, it 
was a wonderful song, went: [Singing] "Once I went swimming 
where there were no women and no one could see. Bathing suits 
were loathing so I hung my clothing underneath the tree. Then I 
hit the water there like Pharoah's daughters swiming down the 
Nile. A tramp he saw me there and swiped my underwear and left me 
with a smile." Well now Tate could have directed all that, but 
instead people sat around the table there and Powell went on for 
one hour and a half. 

DR. CRAWFORD: I think I have seen some pictures of that meeting. 
DR. CAPERS: Well I told Alvin he ought to do it again, see. 

Because there are some people there who somehow or 
another didn't get invited. But I mean to tell you they really 
showed up. But the other funny thing I meant to tell you. I've 
been laughing at this for three weeks. There was an article in 


Newsweek about Lyndon Johnson and about President Carter. Well, 

one of his aides said that Carter was like a country dog that 

comes to the city. Said if he would stand still he would get 

screwed and if he runs he would get bitten in the ass. 

[Laughter ] 

DR. CRAWFORD: Was that Newsweek ? 

DR. CAPERS: Yes. I read that regularly. It's a good 

DR. CRAWFORD: I'll have to subscribe again. I was just noticing, 

Jerry, we probably should let you get ready. 

[End of interview] 


es* SEPT 88